Ed DeLaney: Blaming the rural folks for Republican inaction

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Ed DeLaneyYou can learn a lot attending a breakfast.

I recently had the pleasure of attending the annual legislative breakfast sponsored by the Indiana Latino Institute. The speaker of the House was joined by other legislative leaders from both parties for a roundtable discussion. Both state party chairs also made remarks.

As you can imagine, diversity was a watchword for all. The topic seemed natural for Democrats, who pointed to the many groups represented in the Democratic Party. By way of contrast, the Republican chairman struggled to address the issue.

He rightly pointed to the Richard G. Lugar Excellence in Public Service Series, which has sought for years to increase the influence of women in the Republican Party. Happily, no one mentioned the small number of Republican women in the legislative supermajority—only 11 of the 67 Republican members of the House.

Nor did anyone allude to the fact that 17 of the House Democrats are women, making them a majority in our 33-member caucus. Nonetheless, the speaker was able to console the audience with the fact that the state has a good credit rating.

The fun really began when two specific concerns for the Latino community were raised. The first was the problems Hispanics, insurance companies and police suffer from when undocumented residents can’t get a driver’s license and have a wreck or a traffic ticket. The second was the failure of some state colleges to grant in-state tuition to Dreamers—young Hoosiers brought here by their parents without complying with immigration laws.

The speaker had an answer: The problem was that Hispanics were expressing urban concerns, but his caucus members were heavily rural. In his view, it is incumbent on the Latino community to reach out to Republican legislators who are unaffected by Latino issues and get them to understand.

In other words, the Latino advocates need to tell rural Republican legislators to take their eyes off the issues they really care about. I can only assume that means “cultural” issues like guns, abortion and needle exchanges.

It is hard to know where to start, but let’s risk beginning by getting some data from Purdue University. It seems that Indiana is only 14% rural. The Purdue Extension Center on Rural Development points out that Indiana has more than 4 million urban residents but well under a million rural residents.

And of course, we are aware of large Latino populations in smaller cities like Goshen and Logansport. This makes it hard to credit the notion that what the speaker would call “rural” interests should dominate his caucus and state policy. Maybe the problem is simpler: If you have gerrymandered districts and long-serving members from safe, rural districts, you get “rural rule”—or at least get to blame our rural residents.

As my Latino friends brought home, it is hard to deal with the notion that their interests or other “urban” interests should be ignored. It is equally hard to understand why there is no real pressure to deal seriously with declining rural schools or the threatened closing of hospitals in our small towns.

Maybe the problem is that the supermajority is out of ideas. The only hope is that voters rebel against gerrymandering and that the real interests of all Hoosiers in education and health care can get dealt with. Maybe even a more diverse (and far smaller) Republican caucus could help.•

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DeLaney, an Indianapolis attorney, is a Democrat representing the 86th District in the Indiana House of Representatives. Send comments to ibjedit@ibj.com.


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